While the naysayers were still calling for Microsoft not to ship Windows Vista until some time in the spring of 2007, Microsoft announced that it was definitively on track to deliver Vista this year to business users and in January 2007 to everyone else. What does this mean for you?
Well, Vista is not something that can be ignored, and every organisation is going to have to come up with a policy for Vista deployments pretty soon - or end users are just going to take matters into their own hands. When Microsoft launched Windows 95, I estimated that, between Microsoft and all its partners, about $500m (£250m) would be spent on marketing. This time, it is likely to be well north of $1bn (£500m) spent in an effort to get end users and IT professionals on board with the migration.
When I look at it, I see four major things that are compelling about Vista and four big issues with migration. Here's what to look forward to and what to watch out for.
Improved reliability and security. Windows XP was a good operating system, but let's face it - five years ago, no one foresaw the security and reliability problems that would come to plague PCs. Microsoft has learned a lot since the launch of XP, and it shows. Vista is much more stable and secure than any previous version of Windows.
Protected mode Internet Explorer. One of the biggest vulnerability points has been Microsoft's IE browser. While the just released IE7 addresses a lot of security issues, IE7 running on Vista takes things to the next level. Running in protected mode, the browser is totally isolated from the rest of the operating system and actively protects against malicious code. This alone is worth the price of admission.
Aero Glass. Computers on TV never run XP – they run slick-looking user interfaces (but, alas, draw text on-screen as if it's moving at 300Bd, with annoying sound effects). It's mostly eye candy, but it's really nicely done eye candy. Vista's user interface is actually pretty slick and might even look good on CSI. Reverting to XP after using Vista with the all of the Aero elements enabled is a chore. This is how computers should look in the 21st century.
Media-centricity. Media is a first-class citizen in Vista. Tight integration with Windows Media Player and the Windows shell make it really easy to browse, navigate, tag and play all the content that's important to you. Music, pictures and video all work just the way you think they should.
Gratuitous user interface changes. I love the user interface, but I have a lot invested in the old Windows experience, and some of the changes just make no sense to me. It also seems that, given the size of some of the targets you have to home in on with your cursor, Microsoft is hiring a lot of young workers who have great eyesight and use high-resolution monitors.
Performance. All this goodness comes at a price. While most features are enabled to some degree on stock PCs, older machines just won't be up to snuff. If you want to run the latest and greatest with all user interface features enabled, you're going to need an upgrade. Older laptops in particular are unlikely to be able to run Vista well with all the user interface stuff turned on.
Compatibility. This is not a new problem, but Vista will confront business users for the first time in a long while with major backwards-compatibility issues. In general, drivers and low-level utilities will be the worst hit, but all critical applications will need to be tested carefully to see what works and what doesn't.
Cost. There's more to the cost of migration than the price of the operating system. Installation, testing, hardware and software upgrades have to be factored in. That means wholesale migrations are going to be costly.
There's a lot to like in Vista. While most organisations are likely to be best served by a phased migration over time, many users will be able to benefit immediately. Either way, Vista is on the short-term horizon, and it's best to start planning now, before the main consumer launch early in 2007.